New London Architecture

From the archive: The Developing City

Thursday 21 May 2020

Peter Murray

Peter Murray

Curator-in-chief

In 2012 NLA’s ‘The Developing City’ looked at the past and future of the Square Mile. Today, positive future-gazing is essential as we plan for a future after the pandemic
 
In 2012 NLA’s main exhibition to celebrate the Olympics was ‘The Developing City’ which looked at the Square Mile as a global trading centre, its history and its future.
 
As we try and work out what is going to happen post-Covid 19 it’s interesting to see what three firms of designers and planners thought the City would be like in 2050. Their ideas formed the core of the show.
 
A proposition by Gensler suggested that the migration of the financial service sector out of the City would  continue, but that the area would reposition itself as the global centre for trade and commerce.
 
The City would be neutral ground, a visa-free zone, managed by the Corporation under new global trade laws. In Gensler’s vision the City would become home to the technology, media and telecommunications sectors, the pharmaceutical companies, fashion, music and art – all alongside the lawyers and bankers. It would be home to the world’s great exchanges, where human contact is once again prized above all else in a 24/7 global trading ecosystem. The historic system of livery companies has undergone a great renaissance, as world expertise clusters to deliver the full range of business and trade within the City walls.
 
The former meat market at Smithfield is now home to the London Life Sciences Exchange. Broadgate has merged with the Bishopsgate Goods Yard to create the largest concentration of tech media companies in the world, with the London Tech Media Exchange at its heart.
 
A new and extended cultural district has been developed around the Barbican with the new London Wall Park providing a spectacular public face to this world-class cultural cluster.
John Robertson Architects and Arupcame up with the idea of the De-carbonised City with pedestrianised streets, and a mix of uses including retail, residential and green space. There would be a nomadic workforce less tied to desks and making greater use of the City’s new green spaces.This new approach to work results in more intensively occupied real estate. By 2050 the City will accommodate 50 per cent more workers albeit occupying 25 per cent less space. 
 
A new cultural quarter emerges in Smithfield and the east of the City sees huge development with a masterplan for a new financial centre in Aldgate that extends from the Tower of London to Broadgate.
 
Woods Bagot, assisted by Brookfield and Hilson Moran suggested that the financial services sector would continue to dominate but the range of other tenant types would broaden as premium technology, media and data analytics businesses increasingly seek space within the City. A range of different workplace configurations would be required to meet the varied workstyles of these different tenant groups, while also reducing their energy and water use and waste production. In addition, ongoing advances in technology will allow people to work productively from anywhere within the City that they choose. As business and leisure converge, organisations will increasingly use their City presence to leverage high-level, face-to-face interaction, driving demand for more destination venues servicing both business and leisure clientele.
 
Eight years later some of these predictions have already come true - the City’s occupier base has broadened, there is increased development in the east of the Square Mile and there is greater focus on public space, walking and cycling. Gensler’s idea of a visa-free zone sounds very attractive in the context of Brexit. The teams correctly predicted the emergence of the Cultural Mile in the north west quadrant, but in the context of our new familiarity with digital communications their idea that future workers would be operate anywhere in the City seems somewhat tentative.
While extrapolating the present and forecasting the future is an inexact science it is nevertheless  productive to set out a variety of visions - something we all need to do in the coming months as we fight to ensure that after the pandemic is over we build back better, rather than returning to normal



Peter Murray

Peter Murray

Curator-in-chief



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